Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Moanhenge 3: Goodbye to the Time Tunnel

As the old saying goes "Ah'll be lovely when it's finished"

It may actually be finished quite soon, or at least the 'visitor experience', as promised for much of the 20th and early 21st century, will be.

As we speak (and as noted in my last henge-related post) the great new visitor centre / motorway-service-station-built-from-discarded-matchsticks / experimental wind-tunnel (delete as applicable) is open, allowing people to see real artefacts and learn stuff without having to first purchase a guide book (though you can still do this). As I think I said before, I very much like the interior of the visitor centre and the interpretative recreations of Neolithic houses are uniformly excellent. The exterior I could do without (but then what do I know about modern architecture?).

Today the British government 'unveiled' new plans for the A303 road tunnel, which seems to have upset and excited people in equal measure. Some pundits are enraged because the proposal to drive the road underground means that those motoring past will, in future, be deprived of the 'free treat' of seeing the world's most famous megalithic monument (slowing down to gawp and thus generating an immense traffic jam). Others are pleased that, whilst standing close to the worlds most famous megalithic monument they will, in future, no longer see the huge train of motorists gawping at them as they pass noisily by, enroute to the beaches of Devon and Cornwall.

As the road tunnel is discussed and the new visitor centre and associated car / coach park 'goes live', the old Stonehenge concrete gift shop / Führerbunker is in the final stages of demolition.

Having grown up with these facilities, I have mixed feelings about this.

Yes, it's good to get rid of the old road, in the process opening up the Stonehenge Avenue and reconnecting the monument to its wider landscape and yes, the old facilities, such as they were, were probably just a wee bit too close to the stones, but I knew them, liked them and, as with all friends, tolerated their little failures and foibles. Now they've gone, smashed into oblivion by the mechanised soldiers of the State, I confess that I miss them.

I miss the elongated car park where coaches endlessly reversed into one another; I miss the old toilet block that shook every time a truck went past; I miss the white-painted circles on the car park tarmac which indicated the former position of prehistoric timbers; I miss the windswept café which looked as if it had been designed to withstand heavy gunfire; I miss the tea served in large unwieldy paper buckets and the thickly iced doughnuts; I miss the security-checkpoint and ticket booth; I miss the old gift shop with its plate glass windows displaying stick-on druid beards and Excalibur-shaped envelope-openers.

Most of all, though, I miss the Time Tunnel.  

This simple concrete and steel passageway ran beneath the old road, herding generations of tourists away from the delights of the gift shop and out to the majestic splendour of the stones themselves. I loved its cold Dalek-grey, mock-marble lining and oddly angular edges, slightly alleviated by multi-coloured 60s Star Trek lighting. I miss the large reconstruction paintings of hirsute Neolithic farmers straining sarsen boulders through the ancient landscape of Salisbury Plain. I miss the giddy-school boy excitement of turning the very last corner at the end of the tunnel and climbing the pebble-dashed ramp, seeing the sarsens rise up magically in the distance.

The tunnel reminds me of visits past: of sheltering from the rain and driving hail; waiting in the semi-darkness with school and university fieldtrips. It was here, when we were excavating inside the circle, that we chatted with night security. It was here that we wheeled spoil past incredulous French, Italian and Japanese tourists. It was here that, on seemingly endless school visits, that we compared tacky purchases (novelty pencils, pens and snow globes). It was here, if you were particularly good at suspending your disbelief, that you could imagine that you were leaving the modern-world behind, plunging headlong back into the distant prehistoric past.   

This part of Stonehenge has now gone, never to return.

I know, of course, that the landscape is steadily being improved and, in the long run, this is all for the good, but the Time Tunnel was part of my Stonehenge experience, my own personal phenomenology and I will never see it again.

Goodbye time may not have been liked by everyone, but I for one will miss you.


  1. you should have asked, EH might have let you have as a souvenir one of the Receptacles for those things your not allowed to take into the tunnel.

    1. Curses! Why didn't I think of that? Also, why didn't I try to get a bit of concrete from the Time Tunnel as it was being demolished? I'm sure English Heritage missed a trick here, as they could have sold genuine bits of masonry to the general public, much as many cashed in on selling bits of cement and concrete allegedly from the Berlin Wall in the early 1990s. Perhaps, if I had such a piece of building material, I could grow a new Time Tunnel in my own back garden, thus subverting the laws of Time and Space and generating a wormhole through which I could travel back to the Later Neolithic and experience Stonehenge as it was meant to be.....

      ....alternatively, perhaps, I should simply take a day off. When does term end?

    2. Not soon enough evidently!